5 Lessons You Learn After Surviving A Major Life Disaster

One year ago I sailed into a storm that would become a cataclysm. The type of stuff you read about but think it will NEVER happen to you. Well…

It happened to me.

I was a careless, free girl with the world at her feet. My biggest problem was whether to travel to Paris or Hawaii…

I have never been through a natural disaster like the terrible earthquake that hit Nepal. Regardless, I know quite well what it’s like to have nearly everything ripped away from you.

In the course of one year I lost my job, the place where I loved to live, I had to leave my boyfriend behind, not knowing when (or if) I would see him again (I still don’t and it’s been nearly one year and six months), 99.9% of my friends left me behind and I had to move back to a city that I loathe.

On top of all of this, my father died suddenly. With his death I not only lost his love and presence, but also his financial support, which provided for my comfortable lifestyle. Many family members and “friends” showed their true colors, which was a dreadful thing to see in the middle of a “hurricane.” They became just as absent from my life as my father was, or worse— because at least the dead don´t rip you off.

Two of my dogs died suddenly, my hair got stolen (yes in Mexico people steal hair because it can be sold for a few hundred bucks), my inheritance got stolen, and I was brutally betrayed by people who were very close to my father. Other, even more dreadful things happened that I simply don’t wish to relate here.

Needless to say, I felt like I was going to die, and the the thought did not scare me. Rather, I wished for death. While I didn’t have the courage (or cowardice) to do it, every night when I went to bed I hoped that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, and every time I did I felt like a beautiful dream had been ripped away from me. I simply couldn’t see the end of the storm and the further I drifted into it, the worse it got.

I lost many things— friends, money, family members, my best friends (dogs) and most importantly, my dad. But I’ve learned and I’m still learning, and writing this is my way of sharing my personal experience that may be of help to others…

1. Suck in the pain and keep swimming!

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

Going deep into a storm such as this is a harrowing experience. You want to die, but deep down you know you NEED to survive. Sometimes what we want differs from what we need.

A few months ago I was still in a profound depression and I wrote something that I now regret: The world wanted me to keep going, but I needed to stop my world.

I couldn’t think straight. I was depressed, I had given up on life, and I wanted death before the dawn. I now understand why close friends and family told me ‘get up and go!’ But in that moment of profound emotional, spiritual and physical agony I couldn’t think of anything.

I now regret not being stronger so I could pull myself out of it and take care of important business and grieve later. This was a tough less, and you must BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TRUST. Money can be the least of your problems when you’ve lost someone very dear to you, however, if you make the wrong decisions during a crucial time you’ll find yourself in an even deeper hole later on.

When someone dies, the vultures begin to descend. If you´re just laying there motionless they’ll mistake you for a meal and begin to eat. So suck it up and keep swimming, take care of all the important things and survive! A time will come to grieve—sometimes you simply can´t afford to do it straight away.

2. Every storm has an end.

When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling. Click To Tweet

I´m not even sure if the storm is over, but the sky is clear. However, there are still a few aftershocks to deal with. The hardest part after the storm is over is that first look around you. The once familiar landscape is gone. During the storm you are in panic mode. You can´t even think straight, you´re just trying to keep your head above water. When the water subsides and you see the destruction around you is when it actually hits you.

The life you knew is gone. You want to pick up the pieces but it’s hard to tell what’s garbage and what is useful. With time you come to realize that you lost more family members and friends than you had initially realized. However, very important ones still remain.

Be patient, it takes time to clean up. There will be a lot of garbage that will need to be disposed off, some more urgently than others, since they represent a hazardous threat. So choose which requires more attention and dedication to focus on first.

3. Good reconstruction takes time.

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

A weak structure is always the first to crumble. You don´t know what life has in store for you and you’re on the ground. More storms will come, maybe not as strong, but they will regardless leave you with two options:

  • Build yourself up quickly, even if it’s a weak structure that may come down in the next storm.
  • Or. You can take time, choose iron. It’s a lot more expensive and it takes a lot more time to built. But you know you’ll be a lot safer in the future.

Don´t rush, you’ve lost a lot. Take enough time to recover but not too much that you’ll never build anything again. Here is where you have to patient. I wish I had known this before.

4. It’s only when you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.

You might think I lost all hope at that point. I did. And as a result I perked up and felt much… Click To Tweet

Going back to the structure metaphor: you’re on the ground— this is the best time to rebuild what you’ve always wanted— time can become endless when you realize that it’s more important to do things right than to do them in a rush.

All the defects you hated, the cracks and the empty fillings— it’s all come down. This is the time to be what you had hoped for, wished for, but never had the guts to create.

This is the moment when you suddenly let go so your imagination and creativity are rushing in and giving you a million ideas for what you can build.

Use it! Do it! Build it!

5. LET GO!

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”

Letting go is, to me, the hardest lesson one can ever learn in life. Sometimes I think that until I learn to do it “professionally”, I’ll never be released. I won´t stop telling you all that I’ve learned about letting go, because every single day I learn something new, every day I fail at something, and every day I win in something.

Letting go is not about not caring. Letting go doesn’t mean it stops hurting. It hurts, A LOT! Letting go is NOT about blocking out the thoughts that hurt you.

Letting go is about accepting.

I still find myself imagining what it would be like if my dad were still alive. When this thought comes into my mind I don´t block it out! I accept it. I acknowledge my life would be a lot easier, I’d have his voice whispering to my ear: “Everything is going to be alright, my darling.”

However, I TRY to accept that he´s no longer around, that this is my life now and I have to fight, laugh, cry and run. And then I remember one of his quotes:


Life is an adventure and we all win at the end. Because we all die. ~ Jaime A. Guerra Click To Tweet

About the Author:

Caroline James is a former radio journalist turned life explorer, focused in understanding a different perspective to life. She is the founder and writer of wanderside.com

Quotes: Life of Pi

Image: “Calm After The Storm“, Hawaii State Art Museum